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Subject: A Couple's Review rss

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Matthew Cordeiro
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This review series is a joint effort between my wife and me and will incorporate both of our opinions. Please see this geeklist for more reviews in this series.

We have every Dominion expansion and promo released thus far. For the record, I’m a bigger fan of Dominion than my wife is. I’m willing to play any time, any setup, any number of players. My wife is more selective in terms of how often she wants to play and what cards she likes to play with. Occasionally, she’ll play 2 players, but she prefers 3-4. That being said, here’s our review of Dark Ages, the latest expansion for Dominion.

Dominion: Dark Ages is the 7th and penultimate expansion for the deck-building game Dominion. Dark Ages is NOT a standalone expansion, meaning you will need Dominion, Dominion: Intrigue, or Dominion: Base Cards to play with this set. That being said, Dark Ages is a very robust expansion with lots to offer. It includes 35 new kingdom decks, making it the biggest expansion of the series. The theme of this set is a bit more doom and gloom than previous releases. As much as Dominion: Prosperity is about wealth and good fortune, this set is about the dregs of society and the squalor it thrives in. Many of the cards' names fit well with this theme: Beggar, Death Cart, Graverobber, Hermit, Junk Dealer, Rats, Scavenger, Vagrant, etc. Similar to previous expansions, Dark Ages introduces some new mechanics and new twists to the game.

Shelters
The shelters are 3 unique cards that replace the 3 Estates in your starting deck. They award you no points ("and may God have mercy on your soul"), but they do provide some minor benefit during the game. They cost $1, for cards that care about that sort of thing, which is a first for Dominion. This really screws up those "gain a card costing $1 more" cards. Personally, they’re nice to mix in once in a while, but we’re not in love with them. The very minor benefit they provide really isn’t any better than having 3 Estates.

Ruins
For the first time in any set, none of the cards hand out Curses. Instead, a few cards hand out Ruins, which are essentially dead cards in your deck that provide the smallest of benefits. There are 5 different Ruins, and you can only see the top card, so you don’t know which Ruins you’ll end up with over the course of the game. However, they’re only in play when you play with a kingdom card that hands them out. They’re similar to Curses in both the number in the supply and the cost. Yeah, they screw up your deck, but not nearly as bad as Curses. We like the Ruins a lot. They’re bad, but manageable. And sometimes, they can be one of those "make lemonade out of lemons" cards.

Spoils
Some kingdom cards hand out Spoils, which are essentially a 1-time-use Gold. Spoils are not a supply pile. We like the Spoils, even if they disappear after you use them. But then again, maybe you’ll decide to not use it this turn and save it for use later. It’s an interesting decision, and this isn’t the only Dark Ages card that removes itself from your deck.

The Kingdom Cards
Did you catch that part where we said Dark Ages has 35 kingdom cards? That wasn’t a typo. No other set has that many kingdom cards. That’s a lot of replayability in one expansion. The big theme here is the Trash. Some trash your own cards, some trash your opponents' cards, some trash themselves, some allow you to get things out of the trash (a first in Dominion), and some give you a benefit when they get trashed. Obviously, if you like trashing cards in Dominion, you'll love this set; if you don't like the trashing concept, steer clear of this expansion. I really enjoy the trashing dynamics. Similar to other Dominion players, my wife is not a big fan of the "trash one of your opponents’ cards" mechanic. It shows up a couple times in Dark Ages and has been seen before with the Swindler and the Saboteur. Not surprisingly, my wife doesn’t like those guys either. She’s never been a fan of particularly aggressive games. The presence of attack cards doesn’t bother her, but these trashing attacks cross the line. I expect they’ll be included in our setup less often than other cards.

Taking a closer look at what’s included in the kingdom cards, we discovered some really interesting stuff that we haven’t seen in Dominion yet. Rats have 20 cards in the supply (the only kingdom deck to date with more than 12 cards), and you gain one every time you play one. Knights are 10 unique kingdom cards, each having a common mechanic but also something unique from the others. A couple other kingdom decks allow you to gain cards from their own separate non-supply piles. This has been done before with Tournament from Dominion: Cornucopia, but the special piles in Dark Ages are full 10-card decks. There’s also a $1 kingdom card, something we thought we’d never see.

On the whole, there’s a fair amount of text on the Kingdom cards. I don’t mind this. My wife finds it a bit overwhelming. Not that she can’t handle the complexity. She’d just rather not read a paragraph to figure out what the card does. I’m sure this will be less of an issue as we play the cards more. Thus far, we’ve played some of the recommended sets, constructed some of our own sets to highlight certain mechanics, and played some random setups.

Some other kingdom card statistics: costs range from $1 to $6, with the majority being in the $4-$5 range. There are 7 attack cards, 3 looters (that hand out Ruins), 2 reactions, 1 treasure, and 1 victory. No mats, coins, or tokens - just a whole lotta cards.

In short, Dark Ages provides a wealth of variety, mechanics, strategy, and tactics to an already deep game system. We both like this expansion, but I’d say I like it a little more than my wife. If you like Dominion and its other expansions, you'll no doubt like Dark Ages as well. If you're new to Dominion, this may not be your best choice for getting deeper into the game. Due to its trashing effects and sheer size, its learning curve is a bit steeper than other expansions. It's a good addition to the system, but probably not the best expansion if you only have the base game.
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LSU LSU
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Very helpful review. I especially liked hearing about the differences between your thoughts and your wife's thoughts.

We have Dominion (base set), prosperity (which we love), and Hinterlands, (which I really love). My play group generally dislikes direct conflict. Would you recommend this over Seaside, or any other expansion currently out?
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Matthew Cordeiro
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LSUtigers wrote:
We have Dominion (base set), prosperity (which we love), and Hinterlands, (which I really love). My play group generally dislikes direct conflict. Would you recommend this over Seaside, or any other expansion currently out?

One of the aspects that my wife and I like about Dominion is that the attacks in 3+ player games aren't really a personal or directed attack because it hits everyone the same.

On the whole, we find the Dark Ages attack cards to not be particularly nasty, with the exception of the Knights and to a lesser extent, the Rogue. Only 7/35 are attacks.

You can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers on which expansions to get. I don't think you'll go wrong with Seaside, Dark Ages, or Cornucopia, I've found Alchemy to be very hit or miss, depending on who you talk to. My wife flat out doesn't like it. I don't mind playing it occasionally. Intrigue has some nasty attacks, but also gives you the cards you need to play 2 games simultaneously or one larger game. So, that one may or may not be a good fit for your group.
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LSU LSU
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Thanks. That's helpful. I think our next expansion will probably be either seaside or dark ages - and I'm leaning toward the latter because of the additional card options.
 
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Matt
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I think Seaside is a must-have for any fan of Dominion. It is very well received, easy to learn, and adds some neat new mechanics. If you don't pick it up before Dark Ages, make sure you pick it up soon after.
 
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